In the tiger’s lair at Kanha

Having finished the Bhopal leg of our trip, Lipi and I boarded the Indore Jabalpur Express from Bhopal junction. The train journey was a rather short one and it reached Jabalpur at an unearthly hour of around 5:15 AM – I am used to waking up early but Lipi was quite game too this time around !! Fortunately, our driver organized by the tour operator was there waiting for us and we started off from Jabalpur station at around 6:30 AM. The interim period was spent in trying to charge our mobile phones but both of them as well as the two batteries we had seemed to take ages in getting charged.

Our plan was to go via Beraghat and Dhuadar falls to Kanha and both these places were quite deserted early in the morning. At Beraghat we managed to get a boat for ourselves and, even though the boat crew overcharged us to some extent, the experience of rowing through the Marble rocks early in the morning was a mesmeric one. During your travels you always yearn for something unique and the Marble rocks are as unique as they come. The experience of the morning mist slowly rising from the water, the Sun’s rays trying to break through the clouds and the rhythmic movement of the boat through the water flanked by the magnificent Marble rocks of different hues, was almost surreal. Even though I have traveled quite widely within and outside India, this was to be cherished.

Dhuadar falls on the Narmada river is a waterfall worth seeing. The spray from the falling water as it crashes into the gorge creates a mist like ambiance and you can feel it all over. The waterfalls can be viewed close up or from a rope way. As we were early that day we missed the rope way but came back later on with our cousin. After spending a while at the falls we were again on our way to Kanha. The road was initially bad due to a 4 lane construction effort but it got better after a while. Our luck in terms of charging our devices or in getting some 100 Re notes as change remained bad.

We reached our resort (Wild Chalet Resort) around 1:00 PM and were very impressed with both the layout and the construction of the resort. The resort has a river running behind it and like all Eco resorts it has integrated the construction with the local terrain and vegetation. Our unit was quite large and well appointed, overlooking the river and even having a private hammock hanging right outside the verandah to boot !! Not having any safaris scheduled for that day, we spent the day at leisure and sampled the food at the resort which was homely but very well cooked. There was a Tribal dance performance in the evening which was quite riveting both for the vigorous drum beats accompanying the music and the swaying rhythm of the dancers. The resort does not have any TV and this adds to the relaxed atmosphere in a big way. 

Next day was dedicated to the safaris, we were doing both the morning and the evening one. After some early morning tea we set off to the Khatia gate for completing the required formalities before starting the Safari at 6 AM. The open jeep was pretty cold due to the biting wind and thankfully, the driver had provided us a couple of blankets to huddle into. Being in the southern part of the country for the past 18 years, we are simply not used to that level of temperature or winds any more. Anyway, adaptability is the key ingredient for successful travel so we just braced up for it, with the view that the sighting of a tiger will make all of this worthwhile.

Those hopes were unfortunately belied in the morning Safari. We did see a lot of tiger pug marks and the Guide seemed confident of spotting one but, despite a lot of chasing around, it just did not happen. We had to be content with seeing a lot of Deer, some Jackals, a herd of Bison from a distance and a few Peacocks and other birds. In the end we consumed the packed breakfast from the hotel and felt rather deflated about the fact that the returns had just not matched the investment we had committed to. Fortunately when you are a frequent traveler you are able to take such disappointments in your stride and after a quick lunch at the resort, we were again ready to take on the Jungle.

A few words about Kanha will not be amiss. It is the largest sanctuary with a total area of about 2000 Sq Kms including the buffer zone. Even the Core area of the jungle is impressive at 940 Sq Kms. The tiger population is nearly 100 there and there are Leopards, all kinds of Deer, Hyenah, Jackal, Bison, monkeys and a whole variety of birds with Peacocks having pride of place. The sanctuary is divided into six Zones and traffic is regulated so that there is no overcrowding. In the morning we had been to the Kanha Zone, where tiger sightings are quite commonplace. Our afternoon safari zone was Kisli where the frequency of sightings are lower. This being the case we were tempered in our optimism of being able to spot one.

The afternoon safari was an improvement in many ways. The Sun was shining and this allowed for great visibility. More animals were out in the open and we saw all the ones we had seen in the morning, some at really close quarters such as a couple of Nilgais and Barasinghas. The real deal was sighting of a Bison right next to our Jeep. It paid scant attention to us and went on munching some leaves. From close up one could see that is is a magnificent animal. The black muscular frame, the curved colorful horn and the white feet were all a sight to behold. After seeing the Bison we were feeling a little less let down at not viewing the tiger.

Throughout the afternoon safari our Guide was listening to the chatter of the monkey, studying pug marks and taking us over several tracks in the hope of spotting a tiger. His efforts and our ardent desires got rewarded at long last, just when we had almost given up on it as a lost cause. We could finally see a tigress making it’s way through the jungle. The sighting was not absolutely clear due to the trees but we could see it for long enough. As they say, when it rains it pours – we were soon seeing another tiger crossing the road and going to the other side of the forest. By then it was nearly dark and we had to end the safari. Overall, it was a thrilling experience, what with the adrenaline pumping anticipation of seeing a tiger as well as the eventual excitement of spotting not one but two of them within half an hour. All was well as it ended well !!

After such excitement the rest of our stay in Kanha was rather uneventful. We checked out around 10 AM next day after having an elaborate breakfast of Aloo Paratha and Masala Omlette. On our way to Jabalpur we were lucky to get one SBI branch where you could withdraw money through a micro ATM, which was good as we had almost completely run out of 100 Re notes by then. Our tour operator MP Go Wild tours and the manager Rajesh had arranged the Kanha trip very well and it was a very satisfying experience. We could enjoy our travel without having to worry about anything administrative. Check him out if you are planning for any of the wild life sanctuaries in MP.

Jabalpur was rather fun as we got to meet my cousins ( both Doctors)  and their families at long last. Two days flew by with good food, great liquor and even greater company.We visited the Dhuadar falls once more, this time using the rope way and got a 360 degree view of the falls. Also looked at the Balancing rock which has stayed in the same place for centuries apparently. 

Finally it was time to get back to Hyderabad on Thursday. The drive to Jabalpur airport was a nice one and soon we were about the ATR aircraft of Air India. This was a trip planned rather well and there were several worthwhile experiences and memories. If any of you want to check out some pictures go to my Facebook page and read the posts I had during the travel.

We will of course be back in MP soon, there is so much to see in it that I can easily visualize at least another 3 or more trips that we will need. For now though, the memories of our recent trip are fresh in our mind’s eye and will sustain us till we travel next.

 

A vacation in the heart of India

While travel within India and outside it is my primary passion, what with one thing and another, I have never been to MP as much as I would have liked to. Of course, we went for our honeymoon to Panchmarhi and visited Gwalior and Shivpuri later on, but for a vast state like MP that is too little. I had been several times to Bhopal for work and like the city. In 2014 when I took my son there for his SSB interview, I could see that the city had changed a lot and wanted to spend some time there.

With the children in college and my current work as a Consultant, it is easier for me to plan travel now compared to earlier times. I looked at clubbing it with our anniversary, it was kind of romantic to go back to the same place where we had gone during our honeymoon 🙂 I looked at 3 days in Bhopal, a couple of days in Kanha and finally two days in Jabalpur where we have some first cousins who we had not met for long.

The planning part was reasonably easy – train tickets to Bhopal and Jabalpur and flight tickets from Jabalpur were booked online. We booked the hotels in Bhopal and Jabalpur through GoIbibo and Kanha travel was booked through an agent. We had some issues in getting cash for the trip, especially the 100 Re notes. A couple of days to various banks and numerous ATM’s enabled us to get about 20000 out of which 6000 was in 100 Re notes.

So with all of this done, we set out on 23rd evening to Bhopal by AP Sampark Kranti express. Fortunately, our tickets in AC 2 Tier had got confirmed finally which caused a major mood improvement of Lipi !! The train journey was quite comfortable and after checking in to the hotel next morning, we set off to Bhojpur and Bhimbetka. The Shiv temple in Bhojpur is definitely worth a visit if you are either religious or are interested in heritage. It has the largest Shiva Lingam in India and there are a large number of people there for daily worship. I was very impressed with the plans of the temple which were drawn on stones near to the temple. To think that 1000 years back, Engineering feats were planned and executed meticulously was definitely awe inspiring.

The rock shelters of Bhimbetka were definitely out of this world. To merely think that there were people inhabiting the place 50000 years and more back and they drew pictures on the same rocks we were seeing now will fill you with wonder. The site is very well kept by MP tourism and the Guide we had was quite knowledgeable as well as articulate. In the evening we went to the Upper lake or Badi Talab, which is the center of all evening activities in Bhopal. The lake is beautiful with a lot of food joints around as well as all kinds of boating options. The speed boat we chose was a rather thrilling ride and the setting sun formed the perfect backdrop to the experience. We had some chaat at the local eatery, followed it up by a rather sumptuous dinner of seekh kabab and Chicken at a joint close to our hotel before calling it a day.

The next day started well with another elaborate breakfast comprising Aloo and Gobi parathas. After that we set out to do some local places in Bhopal, taking an auto this time. Birla mandir was the first stop, quite a serene place with very nice views of the surrounding. Museum of Man or Manav Sangrahalaya was very impressive. You will get to learn a whole lot about evolution of mankind as well as get a fantastic overview of how our tribes live their lives. My own knowledge in this area has benefited immensely through the time we spent there. The good thing is that the whole experience is fun rather than dry and pedantic as many older Indian museums normally are. The open air models of the dwellings of tribal people from different parts of India are worth a mention. After this we had brief stops at the Nawab’s palace which was in a rather decrepit state and the Taj Ul Masjid which was quite majestic.

In the evening we first went to a famous local sweet shop named Manohar. It was good to see that the shop was doing bustling business despite all issues of cash availability. After that we went to visit an old school mate of mine, who has been working in BHEL Bhopal throughout. Booking an Uber cab in Bhopal was fortunately easy and it saved us from spending more of our already depleting cash reserves. Till now we had only been able to spend the 100 Re notes and only a few were left. Meeting Aniruddha and his family was a great feeling – it was almost as if the years had just not been there as we could catch up on memories of long back. We also got a lot of inputs from him and his wife Kaberi about MP and what all we need to see there. We had a sumptuous dinner again, which Kaberi had managed to rustle up at a rather short notice. Aniruddha dropped us back at the hotel and we turned in soon – next day was going to be a long one.

The next day was our anniversary and we started off to Sanchi after checking out early. The road to Sanchi was a good one and we made good time. Unfortunately, there was a fair going on close to the stupa site and the police had stopped the entry of cars on that road. This resulted in us having to walk about 2 Kms, part of which was uphill. Not a great prospect with the mid morning heat, but there was really no alternative. The sight of the stupas made all of it more than worthwhile though. “Majestic” is a word used rather commonly today but the structures here can definitely be termed that. The structures are good viewing as are the views of the surrounding areas.

Out of Sanchi we went on to the Udayagiri caves, not to be confused with the ones in Orissa. These caves were built during the Gupta times and has great value aesthetically and culturally. These caves are difficult to get to and seeing them completely involves a fair climb which needs a decent level of physical fitness. However, once you see the sculpture of the Varaha Avtaar of Vishnu, you will probably feel all the effort is well worth it.

Back from Udayagiri we went to see a Jain temple near Bhojpur, notable for the 22 feet statue in black. Further on we visited the MP Tribal Museum. This one focuses on the life and culture of the indigenous tribes of MP and is being developed on a rather grand scale. We were very impressed with the level of efforts made to get the authentic look and feel of how the tribes carry out their lives.

Final stop before boarding the train to Jabalpur was the Jehan Numa palace hotel. I had been to this hotel many times in the past when I visited Bhopal frequently. Lipi and I had also spent a day here when we were on our way to Panchmarhi through Bhopal during our honeymoon, way back in 1993. In many ways we both had a sense of deja vu visiting the coffee shop there. The chicken sandwiches and drinks we had were obviously far more expensive now but the hotel has retained the great quality over time.

If MP is the heart of India then Bhopal is probably the heart of MP. Our trip to this city was a great experience and we went on to Jabalpur that night. More on it in the next post, this one has already got way too long.